HT Brunch Mental Health Cover Story: Lessons of the pandemic: prioritise family first, writes Faye D’Souza
After working 16 years in television news, I had learnt some hard lessons. TV news is a medium that has no respect for weekends and public holidays, it is a 24/7 monster that needs to be constantly fed. Fed with the human sacrifice of interns, desk writers and reporters, who are tasked with the impossible job of making each piece of information seem earth shattering, the job of making each hour of news more exciting than the previous. The job is unforgiving, it eats into time with family, it eats into weekends with friends, into vacations. TV journalists are constantly checking their phones out of fear they might miss a message or an assignment or a tip that something important has happened. The environment is high-octane, very often abusive on, and off the air. I’ve seen very talented young people burn out and drop out of the profession because of it.
Two years ago, I switched to using the internet to communicate with my audience. I’ve started my journey as an entrepreneur using social media to inform young people with news that treats the audience and the journalists with dignity. I have a team of seven people now and we are building a culture around what we do. I’m aware that the decisions we make now, the choices of work-life balance and the time spent with family will eventually set the tone for the culture of the organisation we want to build. The seven people writing, editing and producing now will become the team leads and head of departments who will expect from their teammates tomorrow what is expected of them today.
Ours is a company that has taken birth in the pandemic, a time that reminded us of the importance of family and the need to tend to one’s mental health. But the news doesn’t stop and we cater to an audience that expects to be informed immediately and first on weekends and public holidays. So, as an entrepreneur, I made a decision to be able to give my team the weekends off and to prioritise time spent with family over all assignments. Through the lockdown, many of my teammates went back to their hometowns and lived with family while we all worked from home. We informed our audience whenever we needed the day off, and they understood.
The second impact is the nature of the news. We had a problem when dealing with the information of endless bodies floating in the rivers, the funeral pyres that burnt all night and the phone calls we received from desperate families asking us to help them find oxygen for loved ones. Members of my team started to struggle with their own mental health, suffering from nightmares and anxiety. I remember tearing up once when reading the news, something I personally consider unprofessional. We had to find ways to protect ourselves and each other while still doing the job. It also gave us a sense of the impact this information would have on our audience. It led us to become more sensitive, to put out information in a way that doesn’t aggravate the anxiety of our audience.
I hope to build an organisation that values people, their physical and mental well being. I hope this is a journey our audience takes with us.
Faye D’Souza is a TV journalist who started independent broadcasts on social media two years ago, and is a much respected news personality today.
From HT Brunch, October 10, 2021
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